Coming up with new meal ideas for toddlers and preschoolers can be a challenge. You want the food to be healthy, for sure, but also easy to get on the table fast. Because when little tummies are hungry, they want their food NOW.
Here are the super-simple meals my kiddos love to eat:
Listen: On weekday mornings, you don’t have to hassle with making Mickey-Mouse shaped pancakes or from-scratch blueberry muffins to serve something your child will eat up fast. Here are meals kids like almost as much:
Whole-grain waffle with various toppings
I put a dab of butter on and then instead of jam, I spread baby-food fruit or applesauce on the waffle. You can also go with peanut butter and jelly, or smear yogurt on top.
Skip butter and jam in favor of spreading mashed avocado on top of a piece of whole-grain toast. You can also mash banana and spread that over toast along with some peanut butter for healthy fat and protein. Another option? A whole-grain English muffin with cream cheese and a side of fruit.
Anything with blueberries in it
My kids like yogurt with blueberries in it and a slice of toast. You can also put blueberries in oatmeal, too, and make a game of finding (and eating) the berries in the cereal.
Eggs and toast
Scrambled eggs are great, but fried eggs are faster to make. One of my kids’ favorite breakfasts is an over-easy fried egg on top of a piece of buttered toast. (One my kids likes to cut hers in half so she can mop up the yolk with her toast and the other likes to break the yoke herself.) Serve with a side of fruit.
Leftover weekend treats
Make banana bread or pancakes on the weekend and save some to use during the week (freeze pancakes to use over multiple weeks). I spread a bit of butter on it (and real maple syrup for pancakes) and serve it with a side of fruit.
When mornings get hectic and you just need to get out the door, having a stash of soft granola bars can be a lifesaver. Your kids can eat them in the car to get something in their bellies before daycare drop-off.
Quick List: Breakfast for Toddlers
- Whole-grain waffle with various toppings: butter and pureed fruit, applesauce, peanut butter and jelly, or yogurt
- Homemade banana bread with some butter on it, or pancakes, and a side of fruit
- Whole-grain toast spread with smashed avocado, or mashed banana and peanut butter
- Yogurt with blueberries in it and a slice of toast
- Oatmeal with blueberries
- Eggs – scrambled or fried – with toast and a side of fruit
- English muffin with cream cheese and a side of fruit
- Soft granola bars
LUNCH OR DINNER
Finding healthy, savory foods your child loves to eat is typically more difficult than serving foods that are sweet. But it’s really important for children to develop a taste for savory foods at a young age – that’s one of the secrets to how French parents get their kids to eat all kinds of food. Try foods that are softer and not too spicy. Here are the quick dishes that my kids devour:
Meatballs or sausage
Many parents find their toddlers aren’t into eating much meat. My kids shy away from chicken breasts, steak or pork. But I’ve found that they’ll eat meatballs or sausage. I buy or make chicken or turkey meatballs or sausage and serve it with a side of veggies and a slice of bread and butter.
Hummus on a slice of bread with a side of veggies is a go-to for my youngest. And pasta is always a win too, especially with either marinara sauce or a little butter or olive oil, parmesan cheese and a sprinkle of garlic powder and garlic salt. Serve with a side of veggies like steamed broccoli, cauliflower or zucchini (you can make this ahead of time so it’s ready in the frig) or canned, no-salt-added, peas, corn or green beans.
Whether it’s a breakfast burrito – scrambled eggs and cheese – or a simple refried beans and cheese combo, older toddlers seem to love anything that comes wrapped up in a burrito.
Quick List: Lunch or Dinner for Toddlers
- Chicken or turkey meatballs or sausage with a side of veggies and a slice of bread with butter
- Hummus on a slice of bread with a side of veggies
- Pasta with butter, parmesan cheese, a sprinkle of garlic powder and salt and a side of veggies
- Pasta with marinara sauce and side of veggies
- Refried bean and cheese burritos or breakfast burritos for older toddlers
- Any leftovers from our adult dinner the night before that aren’t too spiced and are relatively soft to chew
Kids are master snackers. As soon as you finish a meal and clean up, they’re asking for something to eat again. Keep these items on hand so you’ll always have something quick and healthy to hand your child:
- Slices of apple with a side of “dip” (the dip is actually yogurt!)
- Dry cereal
- Cracker “sandwiches” made by putting some spreadable cheese in between two crackers, served with a side of fruit
- Fruit, usually bananas or grapes
- Cheese sticks
- Soft breakfast bar like Nutrigrain
- Popcorn for older toddlers
- Animal crackers or graham crackers
- Crackers or whole grain type tortilla chips with hummus (for older toddlers)
When you’re short on time or energy, putting together toddler meals doesn’t have to be involved. You can stock your fridge and pantry with many of the items in the meal ideas above and be ready whenever hunger strikes.
(When you have more time and want to cook from-scratch meals the entire family can enjoy, I recommend Weelicious: 140 Fast, Fresh, and Easy Recipes. My family especially likes the recipes for homemade meatballs, marinara, chicken and wild rice casserole, taquitos for older kids and avocado dipping sauce.)